The case began with the principal calling the teacher into her office to investigate a parent complaint. The principal had already talked to the child when she called the teacher in. The child had told the principal that he felt picked on, that he kept being given time outs, that the teacher did not listen to him, that the teacher was mean, and that the class never got to do fun things and spent all their time waiting, not doing activities. The teacher was presented with this scenario and asked to contact the parents. (The teacher recalled that the principal had been the one to recommend waiting and time outs for students when he had talked with her about his behavior management strategies early in the year.) After double checking his records he recalled the incident that had resulted in the boy receiving a time out. The class had already started when the child, entering late, crashed open the gym door and shouted “Hey everybody, I’m here!” The child is one who is somewhat demanding of attention, coming up to the teacher at inappropriate times and interrupting with questions. On the day that the boy went home to report the incident to his parents he had come up to the teacher during play and said he wasn’t feeling good and asked to go to the nurse. The teacher thought he was trying to get out of the activity and suggested that he wait and see how he felt. When the teacher called the parents at the request of the principal they responded that the child doesn’t show his feelings, and that when he came home he had a temperature of 102. They reiterated the complaints and said that they wanted the principal to resolve the issue. The principal brought the teacher and the boy together to mediate and the boy repeated the story about how unfair the teacher was and about how many times he had been given time outs. When the teacher showed the record of the single event, the principal asked if the boy was sure because she knew the teacher kept good records. The boy continued to insist that he had been picked on all the time. The principal ignored this conflict but went on to suggest how the teacher and the student might get along better including establishing some cues and hand signals. The boy was asked to “Forgive Mr. ____.” The teacher felt confronted during the first discussion with the principal and talked down to when the principal met with him and the student. He now finds himself second guessing himself when dealing with the child and has begun to treat the child differently than the other kids. He is frustrated that the child’s lying was never addressed.
A teacher in this situation would feel angry and frustrated by the way the principal dealt with the situation; feel a lack of support. A new teacher might feel that this incident has planted doubts in the mind of the principal as far as his competence is concerned. It is frustrating to be called in and surprised with the incident, to not have the child or his parents talk to the teacher first before taking it to the principal. It is frustrating when parents believe the child and not the teacher. Perhaps the child was "getting back" at the teacher because he felt he wasn't given the attention he wanted. Perhaps the child didn't intend it to be such a big deal but the parents blew it out of proportion and the child felt he couldn't back down.
Theories behind practice:
A teacher can't be afraid of lawsuits by parents; they must be fair and have the same consequences for students. (Social Learning Theory). Teach and use the cooperative discipline circle model [Griffen and Voss]. Help the student to feel important in a positive way. Make him the special helper for the week or some other reward. (Behaviorism, Humanism)
Impact on others:
Inappropriate behaviors. Student lying not dealt with. Principal-teacher relationship (lack of trust). Student-teacher relationship. How to handle the student.
"Where are you in relation to the circle?" Prepared, Safe, Respectful and Responsible. Continue to document the student's behavior and share with the classroom teacher (who is the mentor). Take someone in with you (Classroom teacher or C.E.A. rep.) Often that person will and can interpret differently and reframe discussion points. Go over your discipline policy again with the principal to reacquaint her with it and make certain she is clear and approves. When a child is sent to a time out, have them do a "Think Sheet" [TIME TO THINK] about why they are in time out. They can write or draw a picture. Include having them think of other ways of dealing with the problem than the way they did.
The teacher felt good about the suggestions generated by the group. Several people commented on the power issues surrounding parents, principals and how they affect how teachers feel about what they do and how they influence decision making, often contrary to the theories that teachers have learned about being effective educators. Politics, power and interpersonal relationships between adults often have enormous influence over decision making.